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Sugar tax should cover confectionery in coffee shops

Health campaigners have urged the next government to extend the levy on sugar-sweetened drinks to all confectionery products, including those sold in coffee shops and restaurants.

Chocolate and sweet confectionery contribute 9% total sugar to the diets of children (4-10 year olds) and 11% in teenagers (11-18 year olds) but contain little or no nutritional value, said Action on Sugar this week, as the group published its manifesto.

AoS also called for strict, regulated guidelines to ensure the public sector buys healthier food – especially schools and hospitals. Manufacturers, retailers and foodservice companies should also be forced to use the hybrid nutritional label launched by the coalition government in 2013 (which combines traffic lights with nutritional information).

“We need tough measures to ensure compliance and put public health first before the profits of the food industry,” said AoS chair Graham MacGregor. “The levy should be structured by the HM Treasury as per the soft drinks industry levy, whereby it is aimed at manufacturers to encourage them to reduce sugar in their overall product ranges,” he added.

Research by Nielsen this month showed that many Brits think the new sugar tax will cover food: not one of the 593 adults surveyed correctly identified that the new charge will only apply to soft drinks. Two thirds think that confectionery will also be taxed. More than one in four (28%) don’t think the levy will be applied to soft drinks.

The Food and Drink Federation has already urged the next government to resist calls to implement any future nutrient taxes on foods. “… [it] provide financial certainty to industry by confirming there will be no further nutrient taxes on foods,” FDF said recently. This would offer companies “the security to commit financing to long-term, costly calorie reduction programmes”.

Chocolate and sweet confectionery are included in Public Health England’s (PHE) programme as one of the nine food categories in which manufacturers have been asked to cut sugar content by 20% by 2020. The target is a voluntary one, however.

FDF has said members are unlikely to meet the 20% mark. “[It] won’t be technically possible or acceptable to UK consumers,” said FDF corporate affairs director Tim Rycroft.